It’s All Beautiful

Pink Beds Loop, Pisgah Forest, NC

Think of how often we say something is beautiful—a painting, a home, a young person, especially a young woman. But what is beauty? How do we define it? Is it a vista of pink mountain laurel or a sunrise over a calm ocean? Is it red cheeks, softness, or tallness? And if we are visual artists, is it bright colors, a specific form, smoothness, roughness or texture? Or if we are musicians or dancers, perhaps it is sound and movement?

It is easy to understand why there are so many ideas of beauty—whether we are describing a person or a piece of artwork or the natural world.

Looking for Perfection

While I was hiking the Pink Beds Trail in the Pisgah Forest this past weekend, I noticed the numerous contrasts in nature. I photographed early flowers like trillium, mountain laurel, bluets, and one or two rhododendrons. But I was most drawn to the beauty of the dead trees either those left standing as food and habitat for birds and those already fallen lying in the bogs or creek.

Perhaps I was attracted by the rawness of the visual or even the shapes and dramatic look of the dark colors against the bright green and the pale sky. Whatever the reason, they touched something in me. I found these decaying trees beautiful in their less than perfect form.

Recognizing Myths

In a recent “Brain Pickings” blog, Maria Popova wrote “there are so many kinds of beauty.” She was writing about love and living with purpose, specifically writing about Rebecca Solnit’s Cinderella Liberator, which she called an empowering retelling of the Cinderella story—a story in which Solnit’s characters become their “truest” self—even the stepsisters.So, the limited view of beauty is certainly not the only myth expressed in this childhood story. There is also the limited view of love and what makes for a happy life.  

But perhaps if we can look at beauty differently, then we can also realize that there is more than one way of living a beautiful life.

Lost-and-Found

Thomas Merton is quoted as saying “art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

Mill Shoals Falls,  Brevard, NC
The video “Connections to Nature” shows my paintings and their inspiration. Follow the link: https://www.patriciasteeleraible.com/videos.

Inspiration

Where do you get your inspiration? It’s a common question for artists. For me, inspiration comes from many sources. Sometimes ideas come from reading, listening to others, or writing in my journal. Other times it is both as simple and as complex as being overwhelmed by my feelings as I watch waves cut trenches into the sand at high tide or water cascading over rocks from 30 feet above me. And lately it seems, much of my inspiration comes from nature.

The Painting Process

Thomas Merton is quoted as saying “art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” With my art based in nature, I find the opposite is true. I usually loose myself first and then find myself again in the painting process. And I do mean loose (set myself free). It is a back and forth, pull and push process that can be frustrating at times, rewarding at others.

My nature paintings are usually based on specific places, but they are not unlike other similar locations. In fact, it is this sameness that interests me most—the connections between what is visible and what is below the surface. It is this connection between the physical aspects of the place and the emotional reaction of the viewer that I hope to capture.

It is difficult to explain what happens during the painting process. I am creating my version of the waterfall, the trees, or the seashells at low tide. But as an abstract artist I am not replicating them. Rather, I am striving to duplicate or even elevate the “experience” of walking up that tight, rugged trail to the summit of Mt. Mitchell. I want the viewer to have the impression of being surrounded by fir trees on both sides and sweating from the effort of climbing over roots and rock. I want them to feel the connections, that oneness with what surround us.

Coming Together

Painting is my method of working out ideas and their relationships to one another. It is a mystery or a puzzle to be solved. Often there is resolution. Other times the search continues, and I paint the same ideas over and over. But ultimately it is all a part of the great energy that is within us and that surrounds us.